More companies—and chefs—are cooking with crickets (yes, the bugs). So someone has to raise and farm the arthropods for human consumption. Inside one of the nation’s biggest cricket ranches.
Jennifer Baires' Pacific Standard story is available to subscribers—in print or digital formats—now, and will be posted online in full on Wednesday, January 14. Until then, an excerpt:
Crickets are surprisingly nutritious. Per hundred grams, they contain nearly the same amount of protein as ground beef and the same amount of iron as spinach, and more vitamin B12 than salmon. In light of the glaring resource-intensiveness and environmental impact of raising traditional meats, crickets have piqued people’s interest because they are so efficient: Pound for pound, the bugs need far less water and feed than chickens and cows. The market now includes competing cricket-protein bars, cricket-based snack chips (“Chirps”), and cricket flour for baking; chefs are offering items such as cricket tacos on menus. Many of these new companies have reached out to Armstrong for supply.
Last year, Armstrong and I sat in his office talking crickets, the acidic smell of manure and feed permeating the air. In his mid-60s and slightly stooped, Armstrong can talk about the bugs for hours, punctuating stories with a wheezy laugh that crinkles his hazel eyes. His desk was a display of cricketalia: a jar of chocolate-covered crickets sat next to a foot-long bronze cricket paperweight; behind that was a box of cricket-protein bars (every once in a while he eats one). “The way we raise them now is a jillion times different than in granddaddy’s day,” Armstrong said, leaning back in his chair. He then backtracked a little, adding that the basics are more or less the same. “You got your sand, like he had; you put sand in the boxes and adults lay eggs in them and they hatch out and you go from there,” he said. “But now in our complex we’ve got buildings just to hatch eggs in, one to catch them in, and we put them in buildings based on age.”
The air inside one of the smaller farm buildings, across the street from Armstrong’s office, is kept at a warm 90 degrees for optimal cricket growing. Aside from a few spider webs clinging to the windows, the building is spotless. (Mike Rowe, of the Discovery Channel show Dirty Jobs, filmed a show at a cricket farm a few towns over, so I expected filth.) Aisles of cricket bunk beds filled with boxes about the size of funeral caskets are lined up in rows.
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